Wednesday, February 5, 2014

180 Stove Review - Part 2

The simple, but highly recommended snow/ash tray.
(Sorry, obviously WELL used!)

Before I talk about performance, I want to talk about the snow/ash tray. No, you don't need it, but would I recommend it? Totally. Yes, it is more weight, but the features totally out weigh the extra grams. It's simply two equal pieces that slot into each other and perfectly form the base of the 180 Stove. (Works with the 180VL Stove too!) The other great thing is, the size of each piece is approximately the same as the sides of the 180 Stove, therefore easily packs together. I've seen other twig stove trays, but they just don't nestle as well as this one. It's obvious the priority of pack-ability was foremost in the simple but effective design - nice.

The snow/ash tray serves two main functions, portability and environmental stewardship. In regards to portability, it allows you to move the stove wherever, or whenever you need, based on conditions. Whether in wind or rain, I was easily able to move it under cover, or to an area with a wind block - all the while, with the fire still burning. (Of course, extreme care is needed!) Or how about cooking from a nice vantage point? How often do you get to decide where the kitchen is, in regards to the fire pit? To take advantage of a nice view over-looking the lake, or in front of the setting sun, you can do that with a snow/ash tray and your 180 Stove. Plus, it can be that small intimate 'fireplace' after supper. It will literally go wherever you need it to go. 

First it was the wind, then the rain. No problem. We just
moved it under the tarp, which protected it from
both, and voilĂ , fixed!

Then there is the environmental stewardship factor, for a lack of a simpler word. The tray is used to contain the ashes and keep it from making a mess. I don't think I need to expound any more in regards to this obvious concept. The tray simply contains the ash, and you dispose of the it in a prudent manner. The other issue which is a bit of a thorn in my side, is the damage caused underneath the tray. The tray does NOT prevent heat transfer. You will most likely scorch the soil underneath after using the stove. I know people have stated that you can dig a depression and then cover it afterwards, which I've done many times myself, but I'm not convinced any more. If you cook in the same spot for an extended period of time, you will most likely kill everything alive below and prevent anything from growing there for some time. Just imagine a dog park with splotches of dead areas around. Sure, I'm exaggerating the point, but I think you get the idea. I've decided now to either use the 180 Stove (or any other twig stove for that matter) in the fire pit sans tray, or on non-combustible surfaces such as rocks, pebbles, or sand, with the tray. This will prevent unsightly blackened areas all around, and protect the environment around us that is teeming with life, even though we may not always be able to see it. I figure there is enough damage being done on camp sites, that every little thing helps.

 One last thing, particularly in a dry season. If you use the stove without the tray and decide to dig down, be very aware of the possibility of an underground fire 'taking root' from humus, or a root itself. I've seen this happen once from a fire pit, and I was relieved that we found it the the next morning before we left camp. You may confidently douse the area with water, but with underground fires, it could well be far from the original area and burst into flames in a different location when you are long gone. This is another big reason for having a tray and using it atop non-combustible material. It goes without saying, be mindful and safe.

I'm sure you'll agree, it is better throwing the ashes out of
sight in the bush, then under these nice stones.

So, the biggest question remains, how does it perform? The answer is not so simple - it actually depends. The reason I say that, is because it depends on a few factors, but namely what you place on top of the stove. If the pot is small, and there are open gaps around the pot, the fire will continue in its intensity. The problem is, if the pot is big and it covers the entire surface, your fire will be stifled due to the lack of air flow. The best way for you to visualize this is, to think of your fireplace at home. Before you light the fire, you have to ensure your damper is open. Why? Because when you light the fire, the hot combusted gases have to go somewhere, which is up. (Remember, hot air rises.) As the hot air moves up, fresh air moves in from the surrounding room and feeds the combustion process by providing fresh oxygen. If you close the damper, not only will you have smoke flooding the room, the intensity of the fire will diminish because there is a chaos between hot air trying to exit upward (Which it can't.) and fresh air trying to move in from below (Which it can't as well, since hot air above is having a hard time leaving.). The fire will continue, but just not as efficiently as if the damper was open. The 180 Stove, or any wood stove for that matter, works on the same principle. Hence, why I say the answer to the question isn't so cut and dry.

I used this stove many times under varying conditions. It wasn't always bad, despite using a big pot. There are actually ways to work around the problem. If there is a mild breeze to 'force feed' air, that helped the issue significantly. However, you can't control the wind, nor the intensity, so it is out of your control and not reliable. You could also use wood in small quantities. Too much wood and again, you stifle the little air flow you have. Problem is, more effort is needed to get/process smaller pieces of wood, and your fire will never be as big or hot. Lastly, using absolutely dry wood - which sounds like a no-brainer, but has more relevance here. Since less air is moving, wood will not burn as efficiently, particularly if it has a bit of moisture to deal with. However, if the air flow increases, even slightly damp wood will burn well. (Think, blowing into the fire.) Oh, one other thing, the small pot scenario. If you are solo, sure. If you have more people and lots of time, sure. I think you get the idea, but it may not always be practical. So, the stove does work, but not as good as it could, and better under certain circumstances.  

Here's a fire pit we found one day at camp. If I wanted to cook 
over a fire, I would have to do a major clean up, 
then rebuild the fire pit to cook.....

.....or, as we did, take out the 180 Stove, find a nice spot
(Meaning clean, level, AND comfortable),  and
proceed to cook supper. Yup, I'll 
take option 2!

One other point that I'd like to make, that affects performance too, is the method of introducing combustibles into the stove. All twig stoves I've used prior, involve putting things in through the top. This method, while it works, has its drawbacks. It isn't easy to see the fire with the pot over the top, and putting things in often times suppresses the flames. If you only use small pieces and in measured intervals, it will minimize this, otherwise, you will go through cycles of a crazy burn, then a suppressed burn. The reason I love the side entry is, is that you can see the fire and how it is burning. Thus, you can add to it where and when you need. Sure, you will have similar heat intervals, but it is much easier to control and minimize, since you can monitor your flame. I'm all about side entry. (Hmmm, that didn't sound right.)

In regards to the performance issue, there is an easy remedy to this problem. All it needs, is elevated cross-members that will lift the pot about an couple centimetres. Through some tests and trials out in the bush, once I had the pot lifted, the fire easily regained it's intensity, and the heat output significantly increased. This crucial air gap, is the key to good air flow, since the hot gases has a place to exit. As mentioned before, it's quite simple - good air flow equals good fire. Trust me, I was really rooting for this stove as I love so many things about it, but it needs a bit of a tweak to ensure this good stove becomes a great stove. I will definitely be making recommendation to the company and hopefully they will determine the best course of action in the future. I just know, if they adopt an 'improved design', I guarantee, I'll be the first in line to purchase one. In conclusion, my recommendations to purchasing one still stands, but with a caveat. Knowing this may not exactly solve the problem, but help you deal with it and still make it a very usable stove.

Cooking with the 180 Stove alongside the more traditional 
method. As you can see, my friend had to use
more wood than us.

In regards to purchasing one, here's another reason to get one. They are reasonably priced, even though they are made locally in the US. At $46.95US, where else can you find a dependable stove at that price that will likely last you a lifetime? You will not only have a great product, but support a domestic company that strives to keep sustainability and reliability as a priority. You can order directly through the company at 180 Tack ( or from Canada from an on-line retailer - Surprisingly, they are priced there at $47.99 CAN! Unfortunately it shows they are out of stock at the moment, but at that price, it's probably obvious why they sold out!

The new trend of outdoor gear is alive and well. With products that get you out there, and help not only the environment, but your pocket as well, definitely deserves your attention. The 180 Stove is one of them. I may still have a white gas stove, but when I head out into the bush, it's the twig stove I turned to first.
Will you?

With the 180 Stove and the snow/ash tray, you 
decide where to have the fire, not
 the other way around.

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